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Keith Hatter

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Active rest and recovery for competitive advantage at work


If you are searching for competitive advantage and sometimes wonder “how do I achieve more?” then part of the answer could well be counter-intuitive. Keith Hatter explains why we should protect our sleep.

In both the corporate and sporting arenas, an important part of the recipe for achieving consistent, intense and sustained high performance is to be world class at rest and recovery. The better you can be at recovering between bouts of hard work, the more energy and engagement you can give to the work itself. By spending less time working tired and more time working with energy and focus, you can achieve more in the time available.

So, here are three top tips for gaining competitive advantage…

1. Check your attitude towards rest and recovery
If you view working tired as a badge of honour, then stop and challenge your thinking. Research and the work we have done with corporate performers tells us that tiredness means:

• Work takes longer
• Mistakes are more likely
• People are less flexible in their thinking
• When things go wrong people are less resilient
• Relationships are often strained
• Our appraisal of stress is sometimes inaccurate
• Physical ill health can be around the corner
So, if you are choosing to work tired, you may well be willfully underperforming and could be putting your mental capability and physical health at risk.

2. Protect your sleep
The U.S. Space Agency’s anti-fatigue programme in the 1990’s discovered that two hours less sleep than you need on a consistent basis is enough to impair your brain performance to a similar degree as consuming two to three beers. At the other end, they found that getting the optimal amount of sleep boosted performance by as much as 30%. How?

Sleep enables two things to happen. First, physical repair occurs in the body. This predominantly happens in the early hours of the night when we spend more time in the deep stages of sleep. Second, it appears that change happens in the brain, especially during dream sleep, more of which happens in the later hours of the night. A number of recent research studies have demonstrated that sleep may play an important role in shifting information from short term into long term memory and therefore free up working capacity to focus on the task at hand during waking hours.

For optimal rest and recovery for both body and brain, most people ideally need seven and a half to eight hours of sleep per night. In order to achieve this more consistently you should:

• Plan sleep sensibly – make sure you plan to spend eight hours in bed, so if your alarm goes off at 6.30, you need to be in bed at 10.30, not midnight!
• Establish a consistent routine for bed time – practice some relaxation skills and controlling your thinking in the lead up to bedtime so it can help you get to sleep consistently
• Avoid strenuous exercise in the two hours before heading to bed
• Get your environment right – dark, cool and comfortable
• Avoid eating a large meal in the two hours before bedtime
• Get your partner to help you slot into a routine, they can only support you if they know what you’re trying to do!

3. Top up energy before it runs out
Often, we only become aware of the need to top up our energy levels when they’re starting to run low and performance is already negatively affected. Towards the end of the week we could find our capacity for work lowered and during a working day there might be periods of the day when we are more easily distracted.

Pay attention to these ebbs and flows of energy and see what you can do to more pro actively keep your energy levels closer to their optimal level. Here are some simple ideas:

• Understand your own energy – what/who gives you energy and what/who drains it? Exploit the things that give you energy to prepare for and/or recover from the things that drain you
• Energy begets energy – being more active increases your capacity to produce energy
• Food is fuel – eat a healthy breakfast every day and then eat little and often to keep fuel available for your body and brain to use
• Stay hydrated – drink at least two litres of water across a 24 hour period, three litres if you’re active or work in an air conditioned environment
• Work in a series of intense efforts (we suggest they are no more than 90 minutes in duration) followed by breaks. Use these breaks wisely by doing things and/or talking with people that top up your energy.

At K2, we advocate a circumspect and balanced approach to periods of hard work, characterised by high levels of focus, concentration and engagement, followed by mindful recovery to enable a return to full capacity. By managing the energy you focus on a task, not just the time spent on it, you will get more done in the time available and gain a competitive advantage.

Keith Hatter is CEO at K2 Performance Systems